President Donald Trump will need Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s help to hide from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s worst attacks as the 116th Congress opens for business, a Republican strategist close to the Kentucky senator has warned.
Scott Jennings told The New York Times that after two years of trying to push a strong Republican agenda, McConnell is resetting to a more defensive stance as Pelosi leads a motivated Democratic Party back into a House majority.
McConnell will head the Republican effort to neuter a raft of progressive bills being submitted by Democrats, including new gun restrictions, protections for young undocumented migrants and voting rights protections, The Times explained.
Though Pelosi has urged both parties to “reach across the aisle,” she has also made clear her desire to stand up to the president.
“I think McConnell is going to be Trump’s best friend when it comes to blocking all of Nancy Pelosi’s worst shots,” Jennings told The Times. “For Trump and McConnell, there’s a lot of good politics for that—particularly for McConnell in Kentucky.”
McConnell is facing the first week of the 166th Congress amid a partial federal shutdown—precipitated by a dispute over $5 billion in funding for Trump’s proposed border wall—that has left some 800,000 federal workers either furloughed or working without pay.
McConnell has been largely absent from the public debate over the shutdown in a bid to stay above the fray and push the blame onto the Democrats. But with the crisis now stretching into its third week, he is reportedly facing pressure to intervene as Republicans break ranks and call for a deal to end the shutdown with or without funding for Trump’s wall.
On Thursday, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner told The Hill: “I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open… The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today.”
Senator Susan Collins of Maine also said Thursday she would support a Democrat proposal to separate homeland security funding from other bipartisan appropriations bills already approved in order to reopen a significant part of the affected government.
“It would be great to have them signed into law because there is no great controversy over them, and at least we’d be getting those workers back to work,” Collins said Thursday.
Both Collins and Gardner represent states won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and will be vulnerable when up for re-election in 2020. Other lawmakers in similar positions will be looking to find a way to end the shutdown without losing too much support at home, regardless of Trump’s wall demands.
But McConnell has refused to take up any bill that he does not think will get the president’s backing, Politico has reported. “Let’s not waste the time,” he said. “Let’s not get off on the wrong foot, with House Democrats using their new platform to produce political statements rather than serious solutions.”